Photo-sharing sites and social networks both provide their members with some video-sharing features, but the lion's share of user-generated video ends up on websites created specifically to provide homes for this type of content. These video-hosting services are a lot like photo-sharing sites, but their focus on video makes them different in a significant way. Because of the nature of user-generated video — that video clips are presentations, demonstrations, performances, or records of events usually meant for an audience — these websites function more deliberately as distribution platforms.
By and large, the content of these sites is open to the public, and you don't have to be a member to view it. But if you want to upload clips of your own, you have to sign up. Most of the hosting services are free, paid for by advertising, but some offer paid memberships that include additional storage and services for the video makers. Memberships also typically make you a part of a community that offers many of the same features as social networks, including personal profiles, contact lists, blogs, and groups.
The second most popular website for viewing videos in 2009 was the Facebook social network, according to Nielsen. It ranked just behind YouTube, and just ahead of Hulu.
YouTube is the best known of these hosting services/communities, but there are probably a dozen or more video-hosting sites that post user-generated clips. They range from specialty sites such as TroopTube, which hosts video for military families, to more general-interest sites, such as Vimeo and Revver.
Uploading procedures vary, but many sites provide some type of uploader software that you download to your desktop computer and use to send your clips to the website. You typically plug your camcorder, camera, or phone into an Internet-connected desktop or laptop and transfer or copy the video file to that device first (this is called downloading), and then you upload it to the website from there. But increasingly, the web hosters are making it possible to upload your clips directly from your mobile phone or Internet-connected camera.
The big advantage of downloading your videos to your desktop first is that you can spruce them up, add special effects, music, and titles with video-editing software. You can buy special programs for this purpose, but many modern desktops come with at least a basic video-editing program. But you'll often find tools on the site for customizing your videos once they've been uploaded.
Some sites offer video album options similar to what you'd find on a photo-sharing site, with comparable privacy controls. And increasingly, these sites provide options for posting your videos to other social media sites, such as Facebook, Twitter, and Digg.
File Size and Format
File sizes and formats represent a unique issue you'll have to deal with when you're uploading video clips. Video-hosting sites post their policies and restrictions, but it's mostly about the size of your file; they seem to bend over backward to accommodate a wide range of formats. They also offer lots of help and advice for a very wide range of formats, and for compressing big files.
“Video compression” is the process of reducing the number of bits required to store and transmit a video file. MPEG-2 coding system can compress digital video by as much as thirty times without lowering the quality of the picture — at least that you'd notice. Compressed videos are easier to upload.
What's viral video?
“Viral video” is a term that refers to online videos that really take off, essentially by word of mouth, but enabled by e-mail and the web. You might remember the Star Wars Kid with the light saber, or the clips of Charlie biting his older brother's finger.
The common file formats of the clips created on modern camcorders and other devices are widely supported by video hosters. Among the most common file types are .AVI and .MPG files. For file types not supported, there's software out there for converting older recordings to modern, web-ready formats.
Virtually all of the hosting sites put restrictions on the size and duration of the clips you can upload. No three-hour epics, please.
Once your files are uploaded, assuming you hope to attract viewers, you'll want to make them as easy to find as possible. The video-hosting sites will often provide features for categorizing and describing your videos with “tags.”
And there's always some kind of policy about “inappropriate content,” though those policies vary. Sexually explicit videos, copyright-infringing content, hate speech, and harassment are typically prohibited. Nudity and vulgarity that don't cross the policy line are often segregated as “adult content.”
Who determines which content is “adult” also varies with the site. Some pre-screen and flag that content based on their policies; some, in a truly literal interpretation of the term “community standards,” publish first and allow the members of the video-hosting community to decide.